PITTSBURG -- Pittsburg Unified School District board members are considering a plan to reduce the number of black students to be placed in a special education program for emotionally disturbed students by offering them alternative support services.
The plan stems from a state requirement that found too many black students were in the program. But the alternative support services will be available to all at-risk students who could benefit from extra counseling and academic support without being placed in the special education program.
The plan will not impact services provided to students already in the program or take away services from those who could benefit from special education in the future.
Critics have said that some school districts act too quickly in placing black children in the program when they may be struggling for other reasons.
Statewide, districts that have too many black students in the program, which provides additional counseling, behavioral and academic resources, are required to have corrective action plans in place by the start of the new school year.
Throughout the district's K-12 schools, 24 black students were in the special education program for emotionally disturbed students in December 2010, according to the California Department of Education. That's twice the number who should be in that program based on the total population of black students in the district, the department found.
This is the first time Pittsburg Unified was placed in the so-called significant disproportionate category for having too many black students in the program since 2005, when the state began keeping tabs under a federal requirement to do so. However, the district was previously required to come up with a plan to address having too many disciplinary actions taken against black students.
District officials say that the disproportionate finding for the special education program was due mainly to the state using a different calculation method than in years past, and the arrival of about 600 new students from other districts during a two-year period. Three-fourths of the 24 black students in the special education program for emotionally disturbed students during the 2010-11 school year came from other districts. State law requires the new district to provide a student with the same special education services as the old district.
The department also found that statewide 48 other school districts, including Alameda, Berkeley, Fremont Union High, Hayward, Mount Diablo and Oakland, also fell into the significantly disproportionate category for any ethnicity.
Mt. Diablo board members are expected to review the district's draft correction action plan for having too many black students in the special education program for emotionally disturbed students at a 7:30 p.m. meeting Monday at 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord.
In December 2011, black students in Pittsburg Unified accounted for more than half of all students enrolled in special education programs for emotionally disturbed students, state data show. Black students currently make up 24 percent of the district's total population of an estimated 10,500 students.
The state finding provides an opportunity to serve struggling students without the requirement of placing them in special education program to receive supportive services, according to Tracy Catalde, the district's behavior support coordinator who has proposed a plan for the board members to consider.
Funding to support additional resources needed for the corrective plan would come from federal grants that help fund special education in schools.
"(It) provides the resources for us to be able to provide intervention to students when they are in need as opposed to placing them in (special education) and putting on a label," he said.
At a meeting earlier this week, Catalde outlined the plan to school board members, who are expected to vote on the plan at their Feb. 13 meeting.
Among other components, the plan calls for additional training for school administrators and teachers."What this plan does is it allows us to identify very quickly the kids that have those needs and to act quickly," Catalde said.
Willie Mims, a member of the Pittsburg-based Black Political Association, told board members the plan "requires the district to take a deep introspective look within itself."
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.